This Texas Rangers season was always about the future, no matter what amount of off-season sunshine was cast on their chances to contend, but officially became so last month.
Example: Were it not, Carlos Tocci wouldn’t have been their starting center fielder Friday night.
But he was, as Delino DeShields received an extra day off to make sure his brain wasn’t scrambled after a tumble Wednesday night. The 25-man roster included four other rookies and 11 players 25 years old or younger.
The Rangers’ three starting pitchers this weekend, each left-handed, are also key players for future seasons.
Trade chip Cole Hamels opened against the Baltimore Orioles and represents the immediate future. The better he pitches, the easier it could be to move him before the July 31 trade deadline for prospects.
He was mostly good, but ended up behind charged with four runs in 6 1/3 innings as the Rangers hung on for a 5-4 victory on the strength of a four-run seventh inning. Shin-Soo Choo, celebrating his 36th birthday, went 1 for 5 with a single in the third inning to extend his club record on-base streak to 49 games.
Sunday starter Mike Minor is under contract through 2020, and the Rangers are trying to make sure his shoulder gets him there.
Don’t lose sight of Martin Perez. He will be pitching for his future with the Rangers beginning Saturday and throughout the first half. He knows it, too.
“I want to stay here my whole career,” Perez said. “We’ll see what happens after this year. Let me do it first, and they’re going to decide after.”
The Rangers hold a $7.5 million club option for 2019 on Perez with a minimal $750,000 buyout. The option jumps to $9.5 million for 2020 with an even smaller buyout of $250,000.
A good second half, one that Perez has produced in the past, could lead the Rangers to triggering the option. They have only one starter, Minor, under contract for next season, but hold options on Hamels ($20 million) and Doug Fister ($4.5 million).
Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Yohander Mendez are under club control as pre-arbitration players.
Perez, who will be reinstated from the 60-day disabled list to make the start, has showed glimpses of the potential the Rangers believe he has. Though he has been in the organization since 2011, he is still only 27 years old.
The problem, though, is that he is still prone to the pitfalls that trapped him earlier in his career. He has developed along the way, but he’s still susceptible to stretches where he isn’t very good.
Manager Jeff Banister first saw Perez in 2013 while working as the Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach, and told him of the scouting report that day. He then asked Perez if he is the same pitcher.
“He was aware of the message that was talked about,” Banister said. “If you’re the same guy you were in 2013, where’s the growth? We’ve seen flashes from Martin along the way. We’ve seen stretches. You’ve got to be some form of that guy for longer periods of time. They’re going to go through the ups and downs. Can you limit the number of downs?”
Perez is at his best when he’s attacking the strike zone with his two-seam fastball and changeup. He says that his right elbow, fractured in December and irritated in late April, feels good and is allowing him to keep his delivery together.
Though he said that he was only bothered by the elbow in his final start before hitting the DL, his numbers (2-3, 9.67 ERA) suggest the elbow wasn’t entirely right in his first four starts either.
But he went 2-0 with a 0.52 ERA (one earned run in 17 1/3 innings) over three rehab starts, when he struck out 19 and walked only three.
“When you’ve got time on the DL, you have enough time to think and to feel things and to try a couple things that are maybe going to work for you,” Perez said. “I tried a lot of things in the bullpen with my delivery and with my pitches, and I think I’m at the point where I want to be.”
He needs to be good the rest of the way. It’s an important time for him.
“Performance numbers are one thing, but how he does it — the ability to throw strikes and get hitters out, and the shape and style of stuff, how he controls his emotions,” Banister said. “As a player you play at a certain level and then there’s that next level that you really need to get to. It’s time for him to progress to that next level.”